Internetstores Group is the world’s leading digital specialty retailer for bicycles, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. With around 40 online stores in 15 countries, the multichannel company specializes not only in bikes, but also in outdoor sports articles. For shipments to European countries with customs borders, Internetstores has relied on MS Direct’s scalable cross-border solutions since 2011. Thanks to digital customs clearance and local returns management, the full-service provider maximizes the customer experience when shopping online.
As part of SIGNA Sports United, the Internetstores Group today employs around 900 people at its locations in Stuttgart, Berlin, Lyon and Stockholm, who are themselves passionate athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Their goal: to be the most trusted partner for their customers and brands with expertise and passion. And that is tangible. With over 40 online stores in 15 countries, Internetstores is now the unbeaten expert for bicycles in Europe. Through stores such as fahrrad.de, Bikester, Probikeshop, Campz and Addnature, the retailer sells more than 1,300 brands and stocks around 130,000 different items. These include exclusive product lines such as Votec, Fixie Inc, Ortler and Serious. Founded in 2003, the company quickly realized that Switzerland – despite its customs border – represented a lucrative sales market. With the second largest GDP per capita, not only is the purchasing power very large, the low value-added taxes also promise a higher profit margin. It is hardly surprising that Internetstores expanded into Switzerland after only eight years.
The back story: Integration into the Swiss market.
If you want to expand into the land of cheese, watches and chocolate, you should definitely familiarize yourself with the customs of the Swiss Confederation. Because although Switzerland is a central European country, its shopping culture and laws are clearly different from those of the surrounding countries. A few examples: When Mr. and Mrs. Swiss shop online, they prefer to do so on websites with a Swiss domain (.ch/.swiss). And since the Alpine people are divided into four language regions, a corresponding language selection is just as much a part of the expectations. But beware of the “German” stumbling block. In German-speaking Switzerland, the preferred script is Helvetic High German – attention should be paid to details such as double S (ss instead of ß) and Helvetisms as far as possible on the website. Internetstores is now active in Switzerland with its online store bikester.ch, which is available in the two main national languages, German and French. On the German side, moreover, helvetisms such as “velo” are consistently used instead of “bicycle”.
Another important point is return of goods. Swiss consumers make sure that they can return their goods to a domestic address in the event of a return. Accordingly, a corresponding offer should be available and visibly placed on the web store. If a purchase is finally made, it is preferably on account in Switzerland and of course in the local currency, the Swiss franc (CHF). A detail here as well: In Switzerland, five centimes (CHF 0.05) is the smallest unit of currency. Prices should therefore be quoted in increments of 5 – decimals of 0.99 are very unusual for the Swiss consumer. And last but not least, for a Swiss web store, among other things, a properly maintained imprint and clearly understandable general terms and conditions (GTC) are mandatory.
While opening up the Swiss market is lucrative, the customs border also entails some administrative work. On the one hand, as a trader you need a VAT number and a fiscal representative – this is a person resident in Switzerland who represents the company in the country. Likewise, registration with the centralized clearing procedure of the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (ZAZ) is required for the clearing of import duties. On the other hand, all product data kept, such as origin and weight, must be registered for future customs clearance. Accordingly, Internetstores turned to cross-border specialist MS Direct. The requirements were clear: support in dealing with the authorities and all customs issues, with the aim that the customer would not notice any of this. Returns should also be processed in the destination country itself before being sent back to the warehouse. The whole process should be transparent and scalable, so that peaks can also be broken.
The collaboration with MS Direct resulted in an efficient delivery process that saved Internetstores a lot of effort. The cross-border specialist took care of all official procedures on the one hand and implemented an efficient customs clearance process on the other. Forwarders transporting parcels from Internet stores across the border can cross the border without interruption and declare their goods at one of the numerous transit customs offices. From there, they are handled by means of collective customs clearance procedures. On the one hand, this procedure enables short travel distances for the forwarder and, on the other hand, fast clearance. Finally, the goods are handed over at a Swiss Post parcel hub, from where they are delivered to the end customer.
For returns, MS Direct created a sub-address for Internetstores at their processing location in St. Gallen. Customers can therefore conveniently send their returns to a Swiss address. A return is checked and recorded immediately upon arrival. The data is then transmitted overnight to Internetstores. This process offers several advantages: Not only are the goods faster at the processing center due to the domestic address, but the refund can also be arranged sooner. All to the advantage of the Swiss end customer. MS Direct stores the processed returns for a short time and sends them back to Internet stores twice a week. Return customs clearance and duty refund included.
We rate the performance, quality and processing time of MS Direct as excellent and we are very pleased about the continued very successful, friendly and competent cooperation with the entire MS Direct team.
Eduard Jesser Head of Returns Internetstores
The add-on solution.
With the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Internetstores also faced a new challenge. Suddenly, the British clientele was also behind a customs border. Thanks to its existing expertise in e-commerce in Switzerland, MS Direct also developed a scalable and customer-friendly cross-border solution with local returns processing for the UK within a short time. The big advantage for Internet stores is that with MS Direct they now have a single point of contact for all customs issues in both markets – Switzerland and the UK – and have a perfect overview of all shipments and invoices at all times.
The combination of an in-house delivery process coupled with MS Direct’s scalable cross-border and returns solutions has firmly established Internetstores in the Swiss market today. Thanks to the flexible and cooperative partnership, the Brexit challenge was also solved without any major hassle. MS Direct is the single point of contact for all customs issues and provides all documents digitally, in an audit-proof manner and with a good overview. This saves time and costs. Thanks to the joint solution, Internetstores keeps its promise to their clientele and offers them the best possible shopping experience on all its online stores. This is how good cross-border e-commerce works!
- One point of contact for all customs issues
- Administrative facilitation
- Satisfied customers thanks to efficient delivery without additional costs
- Growth through the development of new markets
Do you also want to open new European markets with customs border? Then do what Internetstores does and rely on our cross-border solutions. We will be happy to advise you personally, our sales team will be happy to find the right solution for you.